Masthead graphic based on a painting by Gudrun Thriemer.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

JLT, "An election, not the Second Coming," November 3, 2008.

Most Monday's World Report works hard to bring you a range of viewpoints about international events. I usually make it clear where I'm coming from, but I've never used these 30 minutes as a soapbox solely for my own personal political idiosyncrasies. This morning is different.

Last March, in the middle of the US primaries, Stephen Fowler invited me onto Coop Radio's "By the People" to give a resident American's viewpoint on Andre Carrell's essay entitled, "Obamamania."

Stephen began by asking me who I would vote for in the American elections. Back in March, I gave him everything but a direct answer. It was, after all, early in the primaries. No one knew at the time that there would be a Canadian federal election before the American one.

Today, just a day before the American elections--and two weeks after the Canadian ones--I'll try to answer that question more completely if not exactly more directly. Not that I think anyone should give a hoot how I vote. Not that it's even anyone's business but my own.

However, an election is a summary opportunity. It asks us to to consider everything that we think important in public life, everything that affects us in however small or intimate a way, and to add it all up. A vote is a compromise. There is no way to avoid this. Not voting is just another compromise.

On the last World Repot I read the story of how the Canadian government tried to force Six Nations people to select their leaders in a process that the settler government saw as democracy. To this day, fewer than 10 percent of the people actually vote. More than 40 percent of Canada's registered voters refused to vote in the last election. In Iran, the moderate opposition made a public point of boycotting the last elections.

The results have not prevented Canada's government and media from talking about the Six Nations so-called "elected government" as the legitimate one. At the same time, the old white boys have not succeeded in convincing any but a small minority of the Six Nations people that their real leaders are any other than the ones they select by their traditional methods.

The results of voter alienation in the Canadian federal elections and the voter boycott in Iran are more ambiguous. To repeat, voting--or not--is a compromise, and there is no way to avoid it. No way to avoid the compromise. Politics has been called the art of compromise. It is a way of dealing with ethical ambiguity. Many of us loathe compromise so deeply that we contract it out to politicians. In much the same way that Canada contracts out its torture business to the US and Syria, we contract out the necessary compromises of public life to polticians whom we then proceed to treat with contempt.

So we vote--or refuse to vote--for the candidate or party that compromises us the least and then complain about the results.

An election is a very intense snapshot in time of what I call a grand synthesis. Of course, it's just my viewpoint. You will vote or not as you see fit for whomever you see fit, or for whomever you see as the least unfit. For my part, I have exercised some discipline NOT to talk about the American election obsessively on a regular basis as if nothing else were important. However, now, it's time. And it may be of some interest to you to hear how someone else thinks about it all. But first, let's listen to that exchange from back in March.


I think those five sobering truisms are still good reminders.


CNN has been looking forward to this election since January 2007 when it began running a regular daily feature called Election 2008. What does this mean?

Elections are a secular version of salvation. Obama is seen as a saviour, the Messiah.

Americans and the rest of the world have more than just the Bush legacy to worry about.

Back in January 2000, Bill Clinton's final term in office was coming mercifully to an end.

Clinton had sent American troops off to war more times and in more places than any other president in the history of the United States--or so it was said. Even so, he stood by and watched while the genocide unfolded in Rwanda. His Secretary of State, Madelein Albright declared that the deaths of half a million Iraqi children was an acceptable price to pay for containing Saddam Hussein with crippling sanctions.

By January, his contemptible presidency was just about over. Clinton wanted to be seen favoring Leonard Peltier's release from the Fort Leavenworth Federal Penitentiary, but he didn't have the guts to actually sign the paper.

Back in March I believed that Hillary Clinton would win--game set and match. I was wrong about that. That should put to rest any notion that I think I am a prophet or even always right. Making no mistakes never was one of my strong points.

Not that I would have voted for her to represent me; but I would have bet on her to win. The truth is I was raised in a family of Democrats and have always wanted to vote Democrat. But after Democrats were elected in the mid-term 2006 election, elected I believe to end the war in Iraq and impeach the President and his criminal cronies, Nancy Pelosi made it clear in her first official statement that none of this would be happening.

I have long believed that the United States badly needs more than two parties. I think democracy works better in Canada where we have had four and sometimes five parties with representatives in Parliament. We have a debate about strategic voting and about how voting for a candidate who is not in a front-running party is the same as throwing your vote away or even voting for the enemy. But the events of November 2006 convinced me that just about the ONLY way for me to waste my vote would be to vote for a Democrat. Hillary, Obama, Nelson Mandela I don't care who. The country needs more political parties.

That doesn't mean I'm taking the line that you can't tell the difference between McCain Obama. That's words someone else wants to put in your mouth. I can tell the difference.

McCain is a folksy, grassroots military man. Obama is a golden-tongued community organizer. I listen to McCain, and I think I know what we will get from him. He's a pragmatic man in a compromising profession, so not everything is predictable. But the perennial neocons are still influential in his party, and he has to deal with them.

I enjoy listening to Obama. He says things I like to hear. He understands my values and I understand his. But I don't think I know what we will actually get from him. He says one thing, and the next I read somewhere he has said the opposite. Zbigniew Brzezinsky is his foreign policy advisor. Obama says he doesn't know much about international law. Colin Powell is in his camp, and now there is talk that Gates will stay on as the Secretary of Defense. How many Republicans are there on this bandwagon?

Many take the sudden appearance of women and blacks on the political scene in the US as a sign of hope. But why now when things are so bad? Might it be a sign of desperation, and not a sign of maturing democracy at all? The old boy democracies of the US and UK are more like corporate aristocracies with elected kings. Unless someone can be found who desires power almost more than life itself--someone like Stephen Harper--then, given the circumstances, a candidate must be found to hold the bag while the old boys steal the parachutes.

The US never was a beacon on the hill. It was, for some, the best compromise. For others, Canada may have been a better deal. For others, Mauritius or Kenya, Rhodesia or Vanuatu had cheaper land or better beaches or a more docile indigenous population. No point in getting a big head about it.

The real political issue now facing the US is not salvation. The pre-eminent practical question is whether the crash and the devolution into multipolarity can be turned into a soft landing--and most important, for whom is that soft landing being prepared. But the real practical question is whether or not the planet can be saved. For you and me, the Wall Street bankruptcy costs are very small, but there will be many of them. For the warlords, bankers and snake oil salesmen, "greed is good." Lots of yachts and private jets stand to be lost, but fewer of them. It is an opportune time for people to organize, but that's a theme for another day.

If I could vote for anyone at all, I would vote for Leonard Peltier, but that's not an option.

The skills required of the next American president I expect will be similar to those required to manage PTSD or a really bad hangover, managing withdrawal from a 250 year delusion of grandeur without blaming someone else for it as an excuse to go on acting out the considerable predisposition to violence.

Someone will have to come up with a plan about what to do with all those soldiers. That doesn't mean just the reservists; that means introducing the idea of career change at Blackwater and other privatized militaries.

I have come to believe that the US desperately needs a Congress with three or four or more parties represented in it. That is where democracy resides, and that is how diversity should be reflected. Failing that, a vote for a party that refused to get out of Iraq and could not impeach the criminal president is a vote truly wasted no matter who the party's leader is, and especially regardless of the candidate's gender or skin color or ethnic or military background. There are not likely to be any real winners in this election although you won't be able to tell from the television coverage.

I might vote for Ron Paul or Dennis Kucinich if they were not associated with the traditional war parties.

I don't delude myself thateither McKinney or Peltier will restore American democracy or redeem America's image with the rest of the world or unite the country or solve the devastating predisposition to look for solutions in voiolent behavior.

The problems are simply too big. The wars will end when we get thrown out. I say "we"
because Canada has clearly been in both wars no matter how Chretien and the Liberals choose to promote his government and their party.

The economy is an appropriate image. Rule of law or ethics or even simple morality would dictate that predatory lenders and other serious financial criminals should be taken out of action and put behind bars. But the reason why it won't happen is the same as the reason why Bush will never be impeached or held accountable for his disastrous presidency. There are simply too many crooks to convict--on Wall Street, in Washington, in capitals around the world.

There is not just an elephant in the room. There's an elephant, a dragon, and some demons in a leaky boat: climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the collapse of commercial fisheries, failure of the Doha Round and the WTO, Alan Greenspan's confession that the neoliberal paradigm was wrong, a food crisis, water, a nuclear renaissance, new rewards for nuclear proliferation and what appears to be declining effectiveness of non-violence--in Israel-Palestine, in Georgia, in Ukraine.

No saviour will be elected. The real position to be won in this contest looks a lot like the band leader on the Titanic. The captain, who sailed our unsinkable ship into the predictable iceberg, has elbowed his way onto one of the lavish new lifeboats, but someone must be found to conduct. Call it "the orchestra" if that will make the players feel better as the whole platform goes out of level and the rising water ruins their fancy shoes. Soon enough their precious instruments will be lost too.

For the time being, the band will play familiar tunes while the ship continues to sink into the icy deep. Tennis players on the upper deck should be advised that there will be no level playing field--repeat NO LEVEL PLAYING FIELD--until the ship settles on the bottom--maybe not even then.

Women and blacks were interviewed for the captain and bandleader jobs because most of
the white old boys knew that they would be busy scrambling for the lifeboats. No matter what, there will be no refunds. Suckers will be expected to pay the inflated price. So enjoy the election, and caveat emptor.
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